Strippers Channel 4 Episode 2

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Knowing what to expect, I dutifully stayed up past my bedtime on Tuesday to watch episode 2. I blogged about Episode 1 here. The patronising narrator, a crying young woman, a grey picture of how sad lap dancers are. Apparently they make no money, are unhappy with their choices, the men are all vile, the clubs are a blot on the social landscape.

This is the picture people want to see; women cannot possibly choose to take their clothes off for a living. They can’t possibly make money from it. On that note taxi drivers pay a settle upfront, self-employed hair dressers rent a chair, when you are self-employed you run the risk of losing money. Not all clubs charge upfront house fees or fine workers. Interestingly none of the women are saying they’ve been trafficked, coerced, forced, all have chosen, (as much as any of us choose) to work in the club. Dancers are not stupid they are usually highly-motivated ambitious individuals who are saving up for their futures. Some use it as a short term way of simply paying the bills. Some dancers work in the same club for 10 years plus, happy with the wages and working conditions.

Only a few dancers choose to be filmed for documentaries and very few customers. We don’t see the rich and complex relationships that exist between staff and customers. The stereotype of lonely ‘loser’ or stag night ‘lad’ fit the bill nicely.

I wish I could tell you that all men who visit lap dancing clubs are misogynists, and that all men who refuse to invade the threshold are lovely. Or that all dancers are exploited victims or silly girls. What I can tell you is look at #strippers on twitter during each episode and see the pure hatred of these women. Men saying “stop taking their clothes off for a fiver and then you’ll be respected”, women saying how ugly and dirty the dancers are. For all the arguments regarding the proliferation of the sex industry into mainstream culture, lap-dancers face stigma and exclusion.

I think the disgust lap-dancing clubs generate provide a useful barrier for what is happening in towns and cities every weekend; people renting serviced apartments to ‘party’ i.e. consume vast amounts of cocaine, alcohol and other drugs and have sex with multiple people. The night clubs where misogynists roam free with the freedoms not given in a lap-dancing club. In contrast lap-dancing clubs are a bizarre sterile environment, where CCTV and Tyson the doorman reign. Far ‘worse’ things happen in night clubs than lap-dancing venues. But the women don’t charge so that is deemed ok. There is something about the exchange of money that prompts people to say the women are being exploited, which I find incredible. Some of the most inspirational women I have ever encountered I met in a lap-dancing club.

This old chestnut is being touted in the wake of Strippers, referencing the book co-authored by Jennifer Hayashi Danns. The latest Object Guardian article recites its usual mantra.

I do respect the fact that some people don’t like lap-dancing clubs but the reasoning behind such campaigns needs examining. The idea that anything damaging is happening in SEVs but not regular night clubs or bars is ludicrous.

I am a big fan of sociologist Professor Danielle Egan and her ethnographic book explores the relationships between dancers and customers deeply. Object’s idea, that the men prance in with all the power whilst the women sheepishly take their clothes off for money, is complete nonsense. Foucault’s assertion that power is everywhere never rang more true, it’s a complex series of relationships there is no top-down static power. Many of the customers frequent the clubs for years and form friendships with the dancers and bar staff. Dr Rachela Colosi’s ethnographic account is also a good read.

I was enthused by a guest lecture I gave yesterday on sex work and talking about #strippers and SEVs. The students were so bright engaged and articulated their views wonderfully. “We can’t ban everything we don’t like”. I am thinking of calling on the council to close down all venues that sell alcohol due to the violence the drug provokes and that I don’t feel safe around drunk gangs in the city centre. Of course I’d be be laughed at but the fact is I find many of the arguments against SEVS, lads mags, page 3, porn etc highly rape apologetic. Male entitlement and misogyny can be clearly seen at the end of a lap-dancers shift, where men walk past the club and verbally abuse the dancers for being ‘slags’ because they can get it for ‘free’. Women who consensually charge for dances or services disrupt their prescribed gendered roles and people don’t like it.

Personally I would like to thank every woman I have ever met in lap-dancing clubs many of whom are my friends to this day, and I support those who are currently choosing to work in that industry. In a culture of a minimum wage that isn’t a living wage, agency work, zero hour contracts, temporary post-doc positions and near compulsory unpaid over time, I think we should all reconsider what exploitation really is.

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